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Anheuser-Busch to pay SEC $6 million to settle bribery charges

Anheuser-Busch InBev S.A., the world's largest brewer, has agreed to pay $6 million to settle charges that it had violated U.S. foreign bribery laws and "chilled a whistleblower," the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Wednesday, Sep...

A waiter serves a glass of beer ahead of an Anheuser-Busch InBev shareholders meeting in Brussels, Belgium April 30, 2014. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File photo
A waiter serves a glass of beer ahead of an Anheuser-Busch InBev shareholders meeting in Brussels, Belgium April 30, 2014. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File photo

Anheuser-Busch InBev S.A., the world's largest brewer, has agreed to pay $6 million to settle charges that it had violated U.S. foreign bribery laws and "chilled a whistleblower," the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

An SEC investigation found that a minority-owned joint venture of the Belgium-based company used third-party sales promoters from 2009 to 2012 to make improper payments to officials in India to boost sales and production in that country, the agency said in a statement.

Anheuser-Busch InBev owned 49 percent of the joint venture, Crown Beers India Private Limited, at the time.

The SEC said Anheuser-Busch violated the accounting provisions of U.S. foreign bribery laws by having inadequate internal controls to detect and prevent the improper payments, despite repeated complaints from employees. The company also failed to ensure that transactions involving the promoters were recorded properly in its books and records, the agency added.

Anheuser-Busch has improved its compliance procedures and policies, and boosted training in India, company spokeswoman Karen Couck said in a statement. The settlement involves previous conduct, she noted.

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The company did not admit or deny the SEC's findings, according to the settlement.

The SEC also said Anheuser-Busch had entered into an agreement with a former Crown employee prohibiting the person from communicating with the agency about potential anti-bribery violations. Anheuser-Busch had used the same language in other agreements with departing employees, the SEC said.

The SEC is cracking down on companies that insert language into their severance agreements that prevent outgoing employees from reporting conduct that could lead to monetary whistleblower awards from the agency.

Couck said the U.S. Department of Justice had closed its parallel investigation into the company without taking enforcement action.

A Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment.

Anheuser-Busch, as part of the settlement, must report its foreign bribery law compliance efforts to the SEC and try to notify certain former employees that it does not prohibit them from reporting possible legal violations to the SEC, the agency said.

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